Twila Hauck has been frustrated when she sees closed signs go up at city parks such as Prairie Knoll Park. The city has had to close fields from time to time because of the heavy use they get from associations.
“My personal opinion is we need more space,” Hauck said.
Hauck volunteers with Andover youth sports associations for football and lacrosse, and she is involved with the high school football boosters. She is also a member of a task force of Andover residents, councilmembers and city staff that have been meeting for the past few months to discuss ways to meet the needs of local sports associations.
The task force has considered whether it would be in the city’s best interest to keep doing what the city’s been doing, replace an existing sod field with an artificial turf field, add additional sod and/or turf fields, or put up a dome.
At this point, the task force has not made any decisions. The group most recently met March 22 and will meet again April 18 to fine-tune their ideas before broaching the topic with the Andover City Council during an April 24 work session. All these meetings are open to the public and occur at Andover City Hall.
Representatives from the local football, lacrosse and soccer associations at the March 22 task force meeting expressed interest in either additional sod or turf fields as well as a dome, but the recurring theme was that the sports associations need more fields to handle the number of participants.
“Indoor space is a bonus, but we need more space,” Hauck said. The youth football association has been holding steady at 670 participants the past two years, she said. The high-point was 750 participants a few years ago. Lacrosse has roughly 125 players, Hauck said.
Todd Blake, vice president of the Andover Area Lacrosse Association, said indoor space would be helpful for offseason training. He said teams from areas that have domed fields are ahead of their teams in terms of skills.
Tony Kowalewski, a wide receiver coach for the Andover High School football team, an Andover Park and Recreation Commission member and a member of the task force, said players in the southern U.S. have an advantage in preparing for college football because they can practice outside during the winter.
Minnesota kids cannot prepare as much besides general conditioning. A dome would give teams an opportunity to practice in the offseason, Kowalewski said.
However, a dome field could cost around $5 million or perhaps $13 million to $17 million if the dome has walls and is not just a bubble.
Councilmember Sheri Bukkila said they can save a lot of time by deciding what they can do for the most people at the cheapest rate.
“I know from the property tax perspective, I’m getting a fair amount of heat for what people are paying,” Bukkila said. “We have folks who are getting street assessments to the tune of $7,000 and they’re extremely unhappy.”
On the other hand, Andover Finance Director Lee Brezinka estimated that adding another sod field would cost about $250,000, while having a new turf field would cost $1 million.
Another option is to turn an existing sod field into a turf field for about $800,000. That would not give the associations additional fields, but the turf field could be used for more hours than the traditional grass fields.
The cheapest alternative of course is to do nothing. City staff estimated it costs about $8,000 to maintain a sod field each year.
Before they get to the council, City Administrator Jim Dickinson told the sports association representatives that they need to really hone in on what the biggest need is. Is it to get additional practice fields or game fields? Is the goal to service the youngest kids who can get by on smaller fields than the older kids?
The biggest question to answer, of course, is how would the city and associations pay for the upfront capital costs, the maintenance and ultimately the replacement costs?
According to task force member Ted Butler, who is also the chairperson of the Andover Park and Recreation Commission, the North Metro Soccer Association invested $100,000 to upgrade Hawkridge Park.
Soccer association board member Sean Beggin said that it may be able to make another six-figure contribution or it could lease space at an hourly rate, although it could not do both a high-level donation and pay an hourly fee.
Hauck said the board did not raise fees even $5 to cover an extra $12 per player for new reversible jerseys. She would not want to raise fees an extra $50, for instance, to pay for a field project.
“Our goal is to provide a good experience for a low cost,” Hauck said. The board thought it could rent space to run a football camp where costs could be recouped, she said.
Butler urged the task force to think holistically about the solution. Although a domed field would cost more upfront, he said the ability to have athletic fields available throughout the year would bring in more lease revenue not only from Andover associations, but from other associations outside the area.
Instead of teams driving to domes in Woodbury, Vadnais Heights or Maple Grove, for example, teams could come to Andover and be spending money in the community, Butler said.
“Having an indoor facility has the potential to really set our community apart in the north metro,” he said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org